Every morning, the ‘agraharas’, or lanes, that run in successive squares around the famous Sri Parthasarathy temple in Chennai’s Triplicane area, are abuzz with activity – braving the winter nip, women dressed in the traditional nine-yard sari are drawing elaborate ‘kolams’ (rangoli patterns in rice flour) just outside their homes, men in ‘panchakach’ attire are heading towards the temple for an early morning ‘darshan’ of the gods, and there are crowds of people walking around the temple, singing ‘bhajans’ and chanting mantras.
Tucked away in one of the ‘agraharas’ is the one-room office of Geethacharya, a 43-year-old horoscope matching centre. As Rumini mami settles in her tiny office, she starts glancing over the scrolls of horoscopes stacked on the desk, one by one. By afternoon, a steady queue builds up outside her door – of people looking to find a suitable life partner for their son or daughter by consulting the stars – or, in other words, for matching horoscopes. These are the progeny of well-educated Tamil Brahmins, residing in Chennai, Chandigarh or even faraway California and employed in high-tech jobs. “Every year, we are besieged by more clients than the year before,” reveals Rukmini mami. And Geethacharya is just one of the zillion computerised horoscope centres that dot the Chennai today.
Want a dream life partner? Consult the stars. Need to buy property? Only the planets can predict the right time. Studies or career not going according to plan or expectations? A ‘jyotisha’ (astrologer) can draw up a fool-proof rescue plan.
‘Jyotisha vidya’ has been a part of the Indian ethos since times immemorial. “It is in the Mauryan times (321 to 185 BC) that we come across the first mention of the term ‘jyotisha’,” says historian K.K. Geetha. Some historians also believe that astrology gained ground in India following interactions with western cultures – notably the Hellenic culture.
But while the younger generation may have done away with many traditional beliefs and practices, remarkably, stars and planets still rule lives. “It is a contradiction; but then India is a land of contradictions,” says Dr Lakshmi Vijaykumar, well-known psychiatrist and founder of SNEHA, an organisation that works to prevent suicides. However, she adds, that if one looks at this phenomenon closely, the underlying issues emerge clearly. “On the outside, these youngsters may present a picture of cosmopolitan confidence; inside, they are vulnerable, insecure and anxious about themselves, unable to cope with the fast-pace of the life they have stepped into. Job insecurities keep threatening them every now and then,” Dr Vijaykumar elaborates.
Looking to the stars for an explanation or guidance is just one way of externalising the issue. As R. Harini, a young architect, puts it, “It is nice to think that my problems are not because of me or that my failures at the workplace are because I am a square peg in a round hole.”
For the last 40 years, Subhalakshmi, and now her daughters, Sangeetha and Yamini, have been regular visitors at a modest house in the Thiruvallur suburbs of Chennai. Whenever they are deeply troubled they meet Sri Natarajalingam, their ‘jyotisha’ (astrology) consultant, who they feel, has never failed to solve their problems. Now, even Subalakshmi’s granddaughters have taken to this family ‘tradition’, although a trifle light-heartedly. “Sri Natarajalingam has predicted that I will be going abroad,” says a delighted Samyuktha, Sangeetha’s daughter.
Dr Vijaykumar is not surprised by this dependence that spans generations. She says, “Soothsayers are closet psychotherapists. They listen, understand, and go on to prescribe ‘pariharam’ – activities to avert the ‘doshas’. Most often, this translates to visits to distant temples, doing ‘pujas’ and the like, which can easily rejuvenate the average believer. The effective result is that rather than feeling helpless, the person redirects his mind into these activities and feels s/he is doing something constructive.” However, an obsession with the stars is not always so harmless. “I have also been treating some girls who have been spooked into depression and sleeplessness by forecasts,” she adds.
Of course, these days there are many different avenues for knowing what the future hold. Numerology, tarot cards, ‘birthstone’ jewellery, Chinese forecasts… the list is long and eclectic. And one needn’t even set up an appointment with a professional; today, the newspapers and magazines have regular weekly ‘astro’ columns by well-known consultants. These predictions may at best be vague and yet they have many takers. Says Manisha, a banker, “I don’t believe in any of it. But it is so interesting and incredibly uplifting to read things like: ‘Today, you will encounter fortune from an unexpected source’, or ‘This will be a week of great rewards and recognition’!”
Perhaps it is this sense of expectation that makes astrology so alluring. “People like to feel important. The thought that one’s life has unseen connections makes existence seem more interesting,” says clinical psychiatrist K. Jayanthi.
Little wonder then that generations have sought advice from Linda Goodman’s books. ‘Sun Signs’, ‘Star Signs’ and ‘Love Signs’ still remain among the most popular books at the well-known Iswaran’s lending library in the city. “They are especially sought after by adolescents and college-going girls, year after year,” says Iswaran’s Paneerselvam. Preeti Kumar, a first year MBA student, is a big fan. She says, “Goodman makes planet-dictated characterisations interesting and justified. My friends and I often decode people as, say, ‘a budding Leo’, or ‘an inborn Sagittarian’. It is a lot of fun.”
So, what does 2012 have in store? It’s a series of ‘horrors’ if the so-called future predictors are to be believed. There is the Mayan prophecy that predicts a solar triggered apocalypse towards the end of the year. And based on the way certain heavenly bodies will be lined up, some Indian astrologers have also traced a correlation between this and the end of the Kal Yuga, and predict that by end-2012 the world will see massive natural calamities, destruction and injustice. Scared already? Then, chew on this. Astrologer and guru Dattatreya Siva Baba is reported to have said at a public meeting in Chennai that, towards the end of the year, human brain patterns would change, because of a change in the solar radiation around that time.
But wait there is some good news too: Following the apocalypse, the benevolent, prosperous and happy Sata Yuga would begin.
Had enough? Before you draw your own conclusions and ‘prepare’ for the future, here’s a thought: What do the stars tell you? Well, it all depends on the kind of person you are. Or is it the other way around?